Billet Blog: 15 February 2017

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Billet Blog: 15 February 2017

I’m sorry not to have blogged for the first couple of States Meetings this year. Finally back in the habit for the second February meeting, which will take place on 15 February. This one continues a pattern of relatively light agendas (which will probably suddenly get much heavier in late April or May, and certainly by June), with the Implementation of the Solid Waste Strategy likely to be the most substantial debate of the meeting. The published business is as follows:

Billet d’Etat V – 15 February 2017 (read it online here)

Part One: Elections

Item 1 – Development and Planning Authority: Election of New Member (link) Responsible Committee: Development and Planning Authority

The Development and Planning Authority is responsible for determining planning applications, including through Open Planning Meetings (which can be attended by the public) for exceptional or contentious decisions. It is made up of five States Members, chaired by Deputy John Gollop, but has more of a judicial than a policy-making function – it has to look at whether applications fit with planning rules, and determine whether or not to allow them on that basis.

Deputy Smithies recently decided to step down from the Authority – as a member of the States Trading Supervisory Board, he is unable to take part in any Development and Planning Authority decisions relating to States’ property, and decided the best way to manage this was to step aside, and allow the States to appoint another member who would not have the same restrictions on their involvement. The new member of the DPA will be another States Member – we have not yet had confirmation of the potential nominations.

Part Two: Legislation Laid Before the States

The items in this section are statutory instruments (orders and regulations) which are agreed and put into action by individual Committees of the States, in line with their powers and duties. The States do not have to approve these (they are in force from the moment the relevant Committee decides) but we do have the power to annul a statutory instrument if we don’t agree with it. This would be quite an unusual move. There won’t be any debate about these items unless there is a motion to annul one of them.

There are twelve statutory instruments to be laid before the States at this meeting. Nine of these (numbers 80, 81, 82, 83, 66, 67, 68, 69 and 51 of 2016) update the annual fees to be paid by various kinds of company under local financial services legislation. Another (no. 85) updates the fees payable in respect of applications for “al fresco” licences. Of the two remaining, one introduces fees for temporary road closures that involve road resurfacing (no. 86) and the other sets out how tax information is to be collected and shared between jurisdictions, implementing article 6 of the Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters, which relates to the automatic exchange of tax information.

Part Three: Legislation for Approval

Item 2 – The Supplementary Benefit (Residence Conditions) Ordinance (link) – Responsible Committee: Employment and Social Security

This ordinance means that people who live in certain open market accommodation (“Part D” of the register) will not be able to claim any assistance from supplementary benefit until they have lived in Guernsey for at least five years. This restriction was approved by the States in November; despite being a member of the responsible Committee, it was a change I strongly opposed. My challenge was defeated and I won’t be attempting to reopen the debate, but will of course have to abstain on this one.

Part Four: Other Business

Item 3 – Implementation of the Solid Waste Strategy (link) Responsible Committee: States Trading Supervisory Board and Environment & Infrastructure (see: Letter of Comment)

The island’s Waste Strategy was agreed by the States in 2012. It seeks to reduce the amount of waste created on-island; to find and re-use useful materials through direct recovery and by recycling; and to establish a cost-effective and environmentally-friendly solution to disposing of any remaining waste.

At the moment, much of Guernsey’s waste is sent to landfill at Mont Cuet, with just under half of household waste being recycled. We need to up our game on recovery and recycling, and the States has already agreed to work towards a target of recycling 70% of household waste in future. Mont Cuet is filling up fast, and will reach its peak capacity by autumn 2018 – next year. There is therefore a real urgency to put in place new waste infrastructure, which will boost recovery and recycling and will provide a new solution for dealing with residual waste.

The States approved the infrastructure for doing this in 2014, and gave Policy & Resources the authority to approve up to £29.5m in capital spending on the project. Unfortunately – if unsurprisingly – the costs have risen since then, and the Committees involved have had to adjust the plans and come back to the States with a request to spend more. The final cost is now expected to be closer to £33m.

At the moment, all we are being asked to do is approve the increase, and give P&R authority to sign off the final costs. We know that the States Trading Supervisory Board will recover the costs by charging the customer, but this will come back to the States for approval before any new charges are put in place (see para 1.18). It is likely that there will be a fixed charge and a ‘user pays’ element (the ‘black bag charge’) – intended to encourage people not to throw away anything they could reuse or recycle. The changes are expected to add an average of just under £5 a week to household bills, but any charging scheme will need to be in line with last November’s Dorey/Fallaize amendment which requires States’ charges to be sensitive to low-income customers, and this is recognised in this policy letter.

There are four potential amendments to the policy letter: one trying to get rid of any fixed targets for recycling and to roll back kerbside recycling schemes (Kuttelwascher/Mooney); one simply trying to strike out recycling targets (Roffey/Meerveld); one directing the Committees to look into an on-island solution for residual waste in the long term (Roffey/Prow); and one directing them to evaluate the most cost-effective way of collecting recycling (Roffey/Merrett).

The Waste Strategy has a long, sorry history, with the States regularly throwing out planned solutions, and the cost continuing to rise with each year that passes. If we do the same again, the ultimate cost to islanders can only go up further, and many of us will be going back on our election-time promise of “no flip-flop government.” I will probably support the two amendments that direct the States to look into an on-island solution for the long term, and to explore the most cost-effective way of doing recycling – after all, neither of them will derail the immediate solution, and both of them allow us to keep working towards better future options. Meanwhile, finding a waste solution that pleases everyone has been the Holy Grail of the States for too long, and we owe it to the island to deliver the agreed plans now, as efficiently and cost-effectively as we can.

Item 4 – Register of Beneficial Ownership (link) Responsible Committee: Policy & Resources and Economic Development

The policy letter recommends setting up a register of the people who own each legal entity (company, foundation, limited partnership or limited liability partnership) created under Guernsey law. This is in accordance with the recommendations  of the international Financial Action Task Force, that governments should have access to information about the people behind any company set up in their jurisdiction; and should, in certain circumstances, be able to share that with the law enforcement agencies of other countries. The report presents this as an evolution of the current situation, with a register effectively centralising information which is currently held in individual businesses, in accordance with existing legal requirements.

At this stage, States Members are asked to approve the creation of a register, to be held by the Registrar of Companies (who will have some information-sharing powers with the GFSC). The project is expected to cost around £300,000, which will be funded by a loan from the bond. The States are asked to agree specifically that the register will be private – accessible only to certain designated agencies – although, in light of various pushes for greater transparency around the world, that principle might well meet with some serious debate this week.

In many ways, the most significant aspect of this project is the definition of “beneficial ownership” – will it trace right back to the people who own a company, or will it stop at a company which owns another company? How much of a company does a person have to own, and what decision-making powers do they have to have, in order to count as a beneficial owner? None of that is included in this report – there is going to be a further consultation on the definition before proposals are brought back to the States, although it’s hinted that the final definition is likely to reflect those used in our anti-money-laundering and counter financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) laws at present. Until we know that, it seems hard to judge how effective this project will be, or how compliant with the international standards on transparency which we are attempting to meet.

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